Dr. Nina Ahuja
Adapting Your Mindset is Crucial to Managing Your Stress
The following is adapted from bestseller Stress in Medicine by Dr. Nina Ahuja.
Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life”
Working in the medical field, this statement rings especially true. New ways of doing things are always on the horizon. Advancing technologies and virtual care are changing how we interact with our patients, and most recently, COVID-19 has abruptly upended how we work and live, with new standards and social norms to maintain while continuing to provide the best care possible to our patients.
Naturally, constant change tends to bring with it high levels of stress. It’s hard to pivot at a moment’s notice, think on your feet and emotionally respond to situations effectively while you’re trying to remember all the ins and outs of new processes and circumstances.
The first step in effectively managing change-associated stress is adapting your mindset to accept something new. Here are some simple but effective ways to cultivate a more flexible mindset.
The Importance of Asking Questions
Most often we go about our everyday routines without consciously realizing that things can be done differently. When new ideas or circumstances are presented—whether by choice or not—they can jolt us out of status quo and get us thinking:
What is the purpose of the new idea or circumstance? How is it different from the everyday we are used to? Is there a benefit to the proposed change? Are there lessons to be learned? Will the change make us, or the circumstances around us, better?
The first step in adapting your mindset is to start asking yourself these sorts of questions. This will help you determine your willingness to change your mindset and accept something new. What is the perceived value you’ll get from these changes?
As you contemplate your answers and consider the value of the idea, you may identify reasons for you to adapt. This is especially important in circumstances where you feel you have little choice but to change. If you are able to connect with even one meaningful reason, you are more likely to adapt successfully.
Change Your Outlook
Your outlook is also an important factor in whether you’re able to adapt your mindset quickly. If you tend to be optimistic and view change as an opportunity, you may consider it more, and with an open mind. But if your outlook is pessimistic, you may focus on everything that could go wrong and miss the potential that may be before you. Some people are predisposed to being pessimistic by their genetics, personal history, external circumstances, and stress levels.
When you are finding it difficult to adapt to a new idea or circumstance, it is often helpful to take into account the ultimate goal. What new concepts or skills are you hoping to learn? What are you hoping to achieve? Or, how are you hoping to grow in this period of transformation?
To support a more positive outlook, it can also be helpful to surround yourself with positive people, journal about what you are grateful for each day, avoid negative interactions and violent media as much as possible, and focus more on possibilities instead of roadblocks you may or may not face along the way.
Find Your Source of Motivation
It’s much easier to adapt when you’re motivated to do so. And when it comes to motivation, people are driven to do things for different reasons: Extrinsically motivated individuals are driven more by tangible outcomes and objective measures outside of their own inner experience, while intrinsically motivated individuals are driven by the inner experience of achievement.
Take for example, the following goal: earning your medical degree. An extrinsically motivated person would feel driven by the objective outcomes associated with the achievement—high exam marks, number of presentations at conferences, and eventually, the degree itself. An intrinsically motivated person would be driven less by the objective markers and more by their inner experiences—increasing confidence and self-esteem, feeling satisfaction from progressing to their fullest potential, and feeling better equipped to help others.
For most of us, there are both external and internal motivating factors for everything we do. Awareness of your values can be extremely beneficial for adapting, regardless of your primary source of motivation. The more alignment between the goal and our values as a person, the more willing we are to adapt to new ways.
Accept Change and Adapt
While Benjamin Franklin's words were true, that doesn't make it easier to cope with change as a constant state. It’s easy to get bogged down in the stresses that go along with it, especially when the stakes are high.
When you start feeling stress creep in, pay close attention to reasons for you to adapt and the goals you want to achieve. Actively try to change your outlook and focus on opportunities for growth that may come with the new idea or circumstance. And find your source of motivation—what’s going to make you want to carry through, even when the going gets tough?
If you are able to adapt to a new idea or circumstance, your experience with change will be more positive.
For more advice on adapting your mindset, you can find Stress in Medicine on Amazon.